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HUNTING

Germany relaxes rules on shooting wolves

The German government on Wednesday relaxed rules on culling wolves, as the population of the predator has grown since returning to the country two decades ago.

Germany relaxes rules on shooting wolves
A wolf spotted in Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

After a emotional debate pitting environmental against farming concerns, the government decided that wolves can now be shot if they cause “serious damage” to livestock farmers.

In cases of repeated attacks against sheep flocks or cattle herds, individuals can be hunted down even if it is unclear which animal in a pack was responsible.

Wolves: Germany's most politicised animal

Previously, wolves could only be culled if they were deemed to spell a real threat to human lives.

A ban has also been imposed on feeding wolves, so as not to encourage the wild animal from shifting closer to human habitations for food.

The environment ministry estimates that there are currently 400 wolves in Germany, while the German Hunters' Association believes the population is more than 1,000 strong.

There have been no confirmed wolf attacks on humans since the animals returned to Germany from Poland in 2000 after a 150-year hiatus.

But livestock farmers have complained of attacks especially on sheep.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party has seized on the issues, particularly in their eastern stronghold state Saxony, urging wolf culls to control their population numbers.

With three major state elections due in the autumn in eastern Germany including in Saxony, Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party has now also backed the tougher stance against the wolf.

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ENVIRONMENT

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.

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